Far Rockaway Minister Vows to Self-Fund Council Bid

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When he is in the pulpit, City Council candidate Sherwyn James is an electrifying and dynamic speaker. Choosing every tone carefully to provide exacting emphasis for his words, he displays a mastery of vocal range that captifies his audiences.

Outside his duties as an AME minister in Far Rockaway, James is demure. Speaking with a calm, even-handed demeanor, James explained why he decided to run for city council in the City Council District 31 special election.

“Even before engaging in my pursuit of religion, or pursuit of a relationship with God, I’ve always had this bent of public policy, and looking at how government can play a role in addressing the concerns and the plight of people in our community,” James said.

Drawing from both a career as a public servant, and as a member of the clergy, James is one of nine candidates on the ballot to become the next city council member from District 31.

The district includes Averne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens. The office was previously held by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who vacated the seat in December after being elected Borough President, triggering the special election.

Currently the Democratic District Leader for District 29B, James has only held the position for about seven months. He was elected to the position this past June and is ready to move into a position that gives him a greater voice, he said.

“I looked at the political apparatus of Southeast Queens community and within District 31 in particular, and saw that all of these positions are held by people within the Democratic Party, all of whom are people of color –– African Americans –– and yet our community is one of the most disenfranchised in the city,” James said.

An unpaid position for Democratic Party members, the role of district leader functions largely as a steward of the party, selecting which judges may run on a ballot, and choosing poll workers.

In addition to his service as district leader, James also works as an analyst for the Department of Education, a position in which he made $120,336 last year according to public salary data.

At least some of that money will go toward funding his own campaign, as James said he will be entirely self-sustaining. It remains unclear whether he will accept donations, but data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) indicates James has neither raised, nor spent any money.

Though James admits to lending himself money, and to spending on behalf of the campaign, data with the CFB indicates he may not be submitting filings to election officials on time.

“The short answer is, all candidates have to report all fundraising and spending information,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesman for the CCFB. 

The next due date for filing campaign finance reports is Friday, February 12, he added.

When asked about his fundraising, James indicated that he was rather relying on “grassroots” support and remaining critical of the CCFB’s fund-matching program to provide city money to candidates. Matching funds don’t make sense in the midst of a pandemic and a fiscal crisis, he said, especially for such a small election. 

“Does it really make sense that the city is now giving all this money to candidates to run elections to get 100 votes, 200 votes, 300 votes?” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars for a special election. It’s crazy.”